Community use of face masks and COVID-19: Evidence from a natural experiment of state mandates in the US


State policies mandating public or community use of face masks or covers in mitigating the spread of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) are hotly contested. This study provides evidence from a natural experiment on the effects of state government mandates for face mask use in public issued by fifteen states plus Washington, D.C., between April 8 and May 15, 2020. The research design is an event study examining changes in the daily county-level COVID-19 growth rates between March 31 and May 22, 2020. Mandating face mask use in public is associated with a decline in the daily COVID-19 growth rate by 0.9, 1.1, 1.4, 1.7, and 2.0 percentage points in 1–5, 6–10, 11–15, 16–20, and 21 or more days after state face mask orders were signed, respectively. Estimates suggest that as a result of the implementation of these mandates, more than 200,000 COVID-19 cases were averted by May 22, 2020. The findings suggest that requiring face mask use in public could help in mitigating the spread of COVID-19.

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Health Affairs